Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. Photo: AFP

China’s ambassador to the Philippines was forced to clarify that the archipelago nation is not Chinese territory on Tuesday, after photos of satirical banners hung in Manila claimed otherwise.

“[The Philippines] has never been any part of China,” the envoy, Zhao Jianhua, said. “No, not now, not ever.”

“It’s a kind of vicious attack, not only on the relations between the two countries but also on the independent foreign policy pursued by President Duterte and his administration,” Zhao told reporters, according to Rappler.

Last week, banners emblazoned with the words “Welcome to the Philippines, province of China,” were hung off of footbridges throughout Manila. Reports on the stunt went viral, amid widespread dissatisfaction with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy.

One poll, conducted in June and published last week, found most respondents would like to see more vocal opposition to China’s militarization of disputed territory and construction of artificial islands, as well as a strengthening of the navy.

53% of the respondents had “little trust” in China. Only 18% said that China would be trustworthy in negotiations.

Controversially, Duterte has refused to enforce a 2016 ruling by The Hague on disputed territory in the South China Sea while at the same time courting loans and investments from Beijing. Critics have lambasted his “independent foreign policy” as independent only from the US, while being increasingly dependant on China.

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